"Ghosts of Mars" is a Masterpiece
- by Ninja Ross, 8 April 2016
In 2001, John Carpenter directed and co-wrote a sci-fi horror movie starring Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube and Jason Statham. It was mocked by critics for its poor acting, terrible sets and confusing flashback scenes, among many other things. Very few people seemed to enjoy this movie and, so far, it hasn't even gained any cult following. And this is a travesty! John Carpenter's “Ghosts of Mars” is a damn masterpiece.
Masterpiece may be a strong term, though. This is a generally bad movie and is an example of critics being mostly correct.
The story, written by Carpenter and Larry Sulkis, follows a team of Mars police officers travelling to a mining town to transfer a dangerous prisoner called Desolation Williams, played by Ice Cube.
When they arrive, they find the place, with Williams and his fellow prisoners locked safely in their cells. It's soon revealed that the town has been invaded by Martian ghosts who have gone insane and possessed everyone in the town, slaughtering anyone who isn't possessed and even tearing their own hosts apart to alter their appearance to be more horrifying.
This is where we reach the first shining example of what makes this movie so excellent! Read that basic premise out loud to yourself: Martian ghosts possessing people and running amok. That's easy to sum up and it sounds like an incredibly cool premise. And then remind yourself that Ice Cube plays the most dangerous man on Mars.
It's the kind of ridiculous, over the top story that has made b-movies so loveable and successful. Ghosts of Mars isn't a typical b-movie, but it's premise alone gives it that kind of flavour. But when you get right down to it, this movie is essentially Assault on Precinct 13 crossed with The Thing. Two of Carpenter's best!
Speaking of Ice Cube, however: The acting is not great. It's not b-movie bad, but it's flat at times and it occasionally feels like nobody really wants to be there. But, at the same time, Carpenter has assembled a cast with undeniable charm.
Henstridge plays Lieutenant Melanie Ballard, a tough, drug addicted officer who can take on pretty much anyone. Henstridge plays a cold hero and any disinterest n the role comes off as a cool, unreadable persona!
Meanwhile, Jason Statham plays sexist, macho Sgt Jericho Butler. He's likable in his own way, but he really gets into the over the top man's man role. He SERIOUSLY commits. But the only thing that really lets him down is that he seems to be at his most nasal ever. You can hear him breathing in every scene he's in and in a few he isn't in.
Ice Cube is Ice Cube in every movie he's in. No need to discuss Ice Cube.
The other actors, like Clea DuVall, Pam Grier and Liam Waite all seem to really get into their roles when they're on their own, but seem uneven in group performances. But when they do put effort into it, we get more of that b-movie magic!
When the acting is combined with excessive violence, we get some serious over acting. You would never have thought that shock could look so shocking. And the gore itself is a lot of fun and sometimes a bit needless, but the needless element seems to be its strongest point.
Carpenter has never really been one for overusing gore, but he's always been good with practical effects. The body modification scenes, showing the possessed miners threading needles through their skin and using severed hands as bras, are as practical as it gets. While it doesn't look realistic, it does look stylish and messy enough that it fits Carpenter's style perfectly and helps make the film even more enjoyable.
Speaking of Carpenter, this is definitely the worst John Carpenter movie in existence, especially in regards to the actual directing style.
His scene transitions make the whole movie look like it was made using Windows Movie Maker. I could argue that it looks like a super cheap, old school b-movie, but it just kind of looks bad... So that's a big negative.
The movie is non-linear, so we flash back to the same scenes over and over again to see what different characters were doing throughout the whole night in the town. This is a fine choice, but often feels awkwardly done and slows the pace down. But it's never confusing and the repetition doesn't last long. This is a minor flaw and should be ignored!
Ghosts of Mars isn't a perfect movie, far from it. But it's a forgotten classic that deserves another look, even if it's just so you can enjoy everyone laughing at a man cutting his thumb off.
This was marketed as a straight forward sci fi horror, which it isn't. It's a quirky, gory and funny flick with some much appreciated b-movie sensibilities. The premise is undeniably cool and, in my opinion, pulled it off better than Garth Ennis did with Crossed. Crossed had no Martians and is therefore a failure. Ghosts of Mars forever.
Yes, thank you, Ross. Is "Ghost of Mars" a masterpiece? Should "Ghost of Mars" be retroactively given all sorts of awards? Is it really the worst Carpenter movie? Leave us a comment!